The Kinks - “Face to Face” 1966, Pye Records
1. "Party Line"
2. "Rosy Won’t You Please Come Home"
4. "Too Much On My Mind"
5. "Session Man"
6. "Rainy Day in June"
7. "House in the Country"
8. "Holiday in Waikiki"
9. "Most Exclusive Residence for Sale"
11. "Little Miss Queen of Darkness"
12, "You’re Looking Fine"
13. "Sunny Afternoon"
14. "I’ll Remember"
Since I’m writing an article about something that happened in 1966, I think I am legally obliged to tell you that England won a very important football match that year, just in case you didn’t know. Perhaps you haven’t heard us constantly banging on about it at any time during the intervening 52 years. What with our national team reaching such glorious heights, you’d think we’d all have had a very positive outlook on life, apparently The Kinks didn’t get the memo.
Formed in North London in 1964, The Kinks were a part of the famous (musical) British Invasion of the USA. Their part in the this was brief because a travel ban was placed on them due to founding members Ray and Dave Davies’ regular fights both on stage and while recording TV shows. They were banned from touring in the US for four years in 1965. By the time this album was released they were successful both in the UK and the USA having had top ten singles in both countries. The Kinks had already toured in Australia and New Zealand and after a trip to India during this period Ray Davies wrote “See My Friends” one of the first successful British crossover singles to use music from India - long before The Beatles had success doing the same thing. They also invented the power chord on their 1964 classic “You Really Got Me”, so The Kinks were already well established by the time they released “Face to Face”.
“Face to Face” was The Kinks’ fourth album and with no need to focus on the US market that had been temporarily closed to them, The Kinks began to move away from the beat music of the other invasion bands. Notably, this is the first album I have covered in this series where all the songs were written by one person - Ray Davies (although Dave Davies did once claim to have written “Party Line”). It is seen by some as the first ever real concept album, although that seems a bit of a stretch to me unless you argue that the concept is the personal, socially observant lyrics or the sound effects included on some of the songs to try to make the album an immersive experience. At this time the band consisted of the original line up and was made up of brothers Ray and Dave Davies, Mick Avory and Pete Quaife and this album to me represents the start of The Kinks as brilliant social commentators.
The album kicks off with “Party Line” and although it seems like a bit of a silly song, I think it’s a strong start because who doesn’t love lyrics with multiple meanings? The tone of the album gets darker from here on in. “Session Man”, a comment on how tough the music business can be is certainly quite maudlin despite the rather jovial sounding harpsichord (we’ll be hearing much more of that) at the start. “Rainy Day in June” is another doom laden number and even includes thunder sound effects. Ray Davies originally planned to have sound effects in between each song but Pye Records vetoed this. Although there are still some sound effects on a few of the songs, the thunder in particular seems a bit bizarre out of its proper context. “Little Miss Queen of Darkness” is exactly as dark as the title suggests but doesn’t feel it’s age. It’s not considered one of this albums great tracks but it stood out for me as the most relevant and up to date sounding song on the album.
“Sunny Afternoon” - the most successful single and most well known song on this album seems just as beautiful as ever but is somehow even more melancholy when listened to in the context of the songs around it. This is the first time I have heard this song as part of a triptych alongside “A House in the Country” and “Most Exclusive Residence for Sale” (one of my favourite tracks on this album). These three songs taken together are a story of a privileged man’s fall from grace from different perspectives. It’s really worth listening to these three songs in sequence and this has given me a whole new perspective on “Sunny Afternoon”, a track that is so well known in popular culture.
For a band famous for their Englishness, this album made me feel a bit like I was wandering through the court of Louis XIV. There is so much harpsichord, it seems to pop up everywhere, however this is a minor gripe This is a great album, it’s cohesive, well crafted and lyrically brilliant but, whew, it’s pretty bleak. England’s golden year suddenly doesn’t seem so shiny anymore. Former England football team manager Fabio Capello once suggested that the England team are not successful because of the “fantasma” (ghost) of 1966 that still hangs over the players today. Perhaps The Kinks saw the disappointment in our future coming. This album may be relatable, but you definitely need something different afterwards to cheer you up a bit.
It reached number 12 in the chart and although “Sunny Afternoon” became their third number 1 single long lasting commercial success eluded The Kinks after this album. Singles “Waterloo Sunset” and “Lola” was still to come but they were never again able to consistently break into the top of the album and singles charts as they had done in the early 1960s. Despite this, their influence was long lasting. Bands as diverse as The Doors, The Ramones, The Clash, Van Halen, The Fall and Oasis have all cited The Kinks as important influences on their work or have covered their songs. All of them mention the way The Kinks’ songs focus on the world around them and experiences that, while being personal to them, easily resonate much more widely. This album’s importance to British culture is that it was the first of The Kinks’ releases to truly do this.
The importance of The Kinks’ contribution to music seems to be overlooked in favor of more iconic bands, who had longer lasting international success and that’s a shame because if “Face to Face” is anything to go by they were making some great music. We should have been paying more attention.